Balkan filmmakers are coming up with creative solutions to keep their productions running and running during the pandemic, despite very limited government support.
In Serbia, the production of television series, both local and international, is booming with around fifteen different programs being filmed. One of them is the CW fantasy series The outpost, which began filming its third season in Belgrade in January, ending on March 13. It resumed on June 4 and is only a few days away from its end.
“Before returning to work, we planned and prepared a very detailed and thorough anti-Covid plan,” explains Jonathan English, director of Belgrade-based Balkanic Media, which is handling the filming. “Our medical team is led by a doctor who was head of the emergency department in Belgrade for 30 years. »
“The main part of the plan is the consolidation system in which departments work in isolation from each other. The meetings are held virtually and we try to maintain the greatest precautions around the actors. We also try to call on everyone involved in production to be as responsible and attentive as possible when not at work. The entire team is very aware of their own responsibilities to stay safe and healthy, and we are all extremely grateful to be back at work.
Likewise, Belgrade-based production company Firefly, which focuses on high-end regional shows such as crime thrillers Black wedding And No violation, as well as Family, about the last days of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević, actively films
“Everyone, except the actors, works in masks, gloves and overalls, and there is a decontamination zone at the entrance to the set,” explains Boban Jevtić, head of content strategy and of Firefly development. “The crews are minimal, and the temperature is taken for everyone. We stopped filming Family for two weeks because one actor had a fever so we had to wait for the test results. Fortunately, he didn’t infect any other team members.
Meanwhile, independent filmmakers, like producer Aljoša Ćeranić, who was making the high-octane thriller Penance, led by his brother Nemanja, when Covid-19 struck, had to rely on his own ingenuity. The shooting began on March 15 in their hometown of Indjija. The state government declared a state of emergency the same day and production was halted.
“But as soon as the state of emergency was lifted, we resumed filming on May 21 and finished it in a record time of 13 days,” says Ćeranić. “We didn’t have a budget for expensive safety equipment, so we kept just the basic crew and used face masks and hand sanitizers. We have been extremely careful and no cast or crew members have gotten sick.
Some productions do not depend on large teams, this is the case for hot film, a docu-drama about Yugoslav queer cinema, co-written and co-directed by Nikola Ljuca and journalist and author Dragan Jovićević. The film’s original visual concept called for filming from a distance with powerful telephoto lenses, which certainly met the distance requirements.
“We filmed the whole month of June, but our crew and cast are only five people: the cameraman, two actors and the two of us,” explains Ljuca. “We didn’t even need a boom because we were using bug mics.”
Bosnia on pause
Meanwhile, in Bosnia, all filming is currently suspended. This includes Aida Begić’s new film, A ballad, a post-apocalyptic love story co-produced by Film House Sarajevo and Les Film de l’ Après Midi. The filmmakers use the extra time wisely.
“We had planned to start filming in April 2020, but due to the pandemic we had to cancel our plans and decided to use this time to continue development and fundraising until we could secure a new filming date,” said the producer. Adis Djapo.
The famous director Pjer Žalica, whose latest film Focus, grandma will open the Sarajevo Film Festival, had to cancel the preparation period for his next film, May Labor Day, a co-production between Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and France.
“We were in the final stages of financing, with preparations planned for early June. In a way, we were lucky: we hadn’t started spending money yet,” says Žalica. “It was clear from the early stages of the pandemic that the movement of people and equipment across borders would be restricted, which is why we immediately postponed filming until 2021.”
The country’s funding body, the Sarajevo Cinema Fund, which planned to double the production budget in 2020 compared to the traditional 900,000 euros it grants each year, had to backtrack following the crisis.
“There have been no state support measures for the cultural sector,” says producer Amra Bakšić Čamo of Sarajevo-based Pro.ba. “Our company has been around for 20 years and this is the first year we haven’t filmed a single shot.”
The Croatian Audiovisual Center (HAVC) was the only government body in the three central Balkan countries to provide additional funding to help productions during the pandemic. He supported the documentary by Silvio Miroščinenko Obalno Setalichte with €8,691, while two feature films, that of Goran Dukić Nosila Je Rubac Črleni and that of Eduard Galić Sixth bus, received €42,796 and respectively €17,076.
“HAVC responded quickly and their funding helped us obtain disinfectants, masks and additional vehicles to ensure distancing,” says Nosila Je Rubac Črleni producer Nina Petrović de Švenk, based in Zagreb. “Most of our films are set outdoors, which has improved our situation considerably.”
Croatia has the most important exhibition scene in the region and, although multiplexes closed their doors at the start of the pandemic, members of the Independent Cinema Network (ICN), which includes 65 cinemas in 54 cities, have began opening their theaters on May 18, when the country’s public health authorities issued recommendations on the measures necessary for holding screenings and other cultural events.
“About 50% of our cinemas had opened their doors by the end of May,” says Alen Munitić, director of the ICN. “When summer started and made outdoor screenings possible, this number increased. Even classic cinemas organized pop-up outdoor screenings.
Due to the lack of new films, most of the repertoire is based on reruns, but some arthouse titles, like the Polish Oscar contender Corpus Christi or the Toronto title by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth The Barefoot Emperor were also released, as well as the debut film of local filmmaker Jure Pavlović Mater.
Cinemas are getting creative
Serbian exhibitors have also found creative solutions: MCF, which distributes Fox and Disney titles in the territory and operates a six-screen multiplex in central Belgrade, has installed a drive-in on the lakeside of Ada Ciganlija, summer mecca, from June 23. It initially screened classics such as Blade Runner And Superman for free, and a month later they were charging tickets 10-20% above the regular price for new titles, including Ford versus Ferrari, from And Call of nature, but per car and not per person.
MCF is now working with other cinemas in the country, including the territory’s largest multiplex chain, Cineplexx, to establish measures with the Belgrade COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters for the restart of regular distribution. The release of Christopher Nolan Principle is set for August 27 and MCF CEO Igor Stanković hopes to be able to recover at least part of the losses.
“The revenue we lost at the box office will probably be in the order of $10 million, plus another $20 million from concessions, services and advertising,” says Stanković. “We also need the government to intervene with selective measures, such as supporting employees’ salaries, reducing taxes on their income for at least six months and reducing the current 10% VAT on tickets movies.
In Croatia, the leading multiplex chain Blitz-Cinestar has just announced that it will reopen its theaters on August 20 with Unbalanced, I still believe And Brahms: Boy IIThe week before Principle comes out August 27. Safety measures include limiting the number of seats and longer breaks between screenings, to avoid crowded lobbies.